China is Striving to Change How it is Perceived in Central Asian States

By : MAJ Naoki Tajiri, Japan Ground Self-defense Force, US Central Command: Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate; Combined Strategic Analysis Group
26 May 2021


Central Asian political stability and security are of great importance to China. Therefore, China seeks to strengthen regional border controls, lead the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and contribute to stabilizing Afghanistan. To this end, China has conducted not only economic and security cooperation, but also public diplomacy and cultural exchanges. With the BRI, China is expanding its sphere of influence throughout the CAS. China aims to build a world of “community with shared future for mankind,” and tries to transform the world political and economic order into a Chinese “global governance” structure. BRI aims to form a China-led friends network based on, or in collaboration with, existing platforms. Each CAS government sees partnering with Beijing as an opportunity to increase political and financial independence to counterbalance Russia’s historical dominance over their foreign and domestic policies.  So far, Beijing’s public diplomacy has proved more successful with Central Asian leaders than their publics. Currently, Beijing’s inroads with ordinary CAS citizens appears superficial at best.

Key Points:

  • China`s regional reputation remains low despite its deep economic and cultural relations. Russia may still be a strong soft power force for Beijing to reckon with in Central Asia.
  • In order to overcome the public relations challenge of lingering Sinophobia, public diplomacy is instrumental to Beijing’s efforts to tell China’s story to the world, and to project a more attractive image of China on a global stage using its culture, language, media, people, and money.
  • Many countries within China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) were critical of China’s spread of COVID-19, but with vaccine proliferation, those countries now welcome China.
  • China seeks to expand its influence and attract Central Asian States (CAS) using media or information warfare to tout China’s superior governance model in the CAS’ cognitive domain.
  • China will advertise its Beijing model as a responsible and benevolent global leader. It will try to prove its governance model to the world during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic games.

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.